Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Mantasy

I've spent the better part of today reading queries and subs. Probably have cleared several hundred out of the queue in one huge go-round. Out of all of those, I requested one full. One! This is unusual. Our hit rate is typically much higher than that. The huge majority of those rejections were for stories that didn't fit our guidelines or were poorly written. Run the spellchecker, folks. Details matter.

At least six of those subs -- and maybe many more, but you sort of start blocking them out after a while -- were for a story type that I've come to think of as The Mantasy.

Before I get into The Mantasy, let me say that our readership, near as we can reckon, is about 85-90% female. This is more or less in keeping with the industry averages for romance. Most romances are read by women. I've never done a breakdown on our submissions to see whether the same proportions hold true in our submissions, though, because we don't really care whether our authors are innies or outies. We only care that the stories be palatable to our readership.

I do know, however, that I've never seen a submission of The Mantasy from a female author. And male authors sub plenty of other kinds of works, so they're certainly capable of writing something other than The Mantasy. But if we get The Mantasy on submission, even if submitted under a female pen name, it's a guarantee that the author's legal name is something like Robert or Matthew or Karl.

Here's how it goes.

The main male character (usually married to a shadowy, ill-drawn wife) gets an opportunity to fulfill a sexual fantasy with another woman or with several other women. These fantasies are never single events, but complex fantasies requiring many encounters to fulfill. At first, everything is going so well that our hero chooses to leave his wife (or, if unmarried, to throw away his job, house, etc.) to pursue the fantasy full-time. And things continue to go well for a while until -- Duhn-duhn-DUHN!!! Damn those fantasy females! They start bickering or making demands or refusing to iron creases into his underwear like any good slave should cheerfully do.

So he leaves (usually in some shockingly violent manner meant to teach the fantasy female(s) once and for all how They Have Ruined Everything). And the moral of the story is always the same. "Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And when it goes badly, it won't be your fault."

Let me give you an example. None of these details come directly from anything we've rejected in recent memory, though there may be some fleeting resemblances. Any such resemblances are due to my own inability to perfectly recall all of the Mantasies I've had to read. In other words, I'm trying to avoid duplicating an actual sub, but we get an awful lot of these. Some resemblance in some detail might be inevitable.

Our hero -- we'll call him Joe -- decides he's had enough of his married-with-kids lifestyle. Joe is a 40-something professional man with money to burn, but he's been feeling rather shackled by his life recently. So he takes out a classified ad for harem girls. "Wanted: Hot, sexually adventurous chicks, 18-22, to join my harem." Then Joe secretly buys a mansion and waits.

Naturally, hundreds of 18-to-22-year-old supermodels flock to Joe's mansion for bikini and oral sex tryouts. Because what young beautiful woman could pass up the opportunity to share a middle-aged married man with several of her peers? ::eyeroll::

Sorry. Getting off track here.

After a most exciting competition period, Joe installs the selected supermodels into the mansion so that they can become his harem. And they adore him and have many orgies. He gets to explore his secret fantasies which we won't detail here. (You're welcome.)

Things are going pretty well for Joe. His wife suspects nothing. He gets a windfall bonus at work. His male pattern baldness is a thing of the past. He's inspired by this to divorce his wife, who neither objects nor seeks alimony or child support, and he moves into the mansion.

But then funny things start happening. Suzette gives him a shorter-than-usual foot massage. Amber chooses not to kneel in readiness next to his armchair while he reads the paper. Natalia doesn't have his bacon and eggs waiting for him in the morning even though it's her turn to cook for him. And when he asks Candy to lick his lollipop, she claims to have a headache.

(Let me interrupt a moment to point out that about half of these Mantasy submissions are in deadpan earnest, and the other half have a strong humorous tone. You might even call them self-deprecating. I point this out because I know my tone is rather, shall we say, ironic. But a good number of the Mantasies share this tone. And the ones that don't? Ought to.)

It comes to pass that the girls have formed many minor jealousies and rivalries, which Joe only slowly becomes aware of. Isadora hates Becky because Becky's butt is smaller. And Carmen got upset when he seemed to be paying more attenting to Katarina during a threesome. Tara thinks she should get Joe to herself on Tuesdays because he once joked about it being "Tara Tuesday." And so on.

Joe tries to reason with the girls, but they are intractable. Eventually, he gets so disgusted with them that he burns the mansion to the ground and moves to Bolivia under an assumed name. When his college buddy, now an FBI agent, catches up with Joe and hears the whole story, the Lawman feels so in sympathy with Joe that he agrees to shred Joe's file.

The End.

You want to know the most common water-cooler comment the editors make about subs like this?

"How is this a romance?"

Well, of course, it's not a romance. Romance is about the formation of a pair-bond. In erotic romance, the sex usually precedes the emotional commitment, rather than the other way around. But there's still a fairy tale ending -- the old, "And they lived happily ever after."

Not, "And they all perished in a fire, except for Joe, who avoided prosecution."

But wait! We take erotica submissions. Says so right in the guidelines. Of course, it also says things like "no marital infidelity" and "must have a satisfying, non-depressing ending" and "Red Sage is known for sensual or erotic romance for women." So that doesn't really get our Mantasy author off the hook.

What's the point of all this? When we talk about knowing your market and checking the guidelines, this is what we're hoping to avoid. I suspect that authors of Mantasies never read beyond the word "erotica" in the submissions guidelines, never get to the part where we explain what kind of heroes our readers like, and never therefore come to understand that our mostly female readership won't care for the story of Joe and his dead 19-year-old supermodels.

There may be a place for such a story. Some of them are even remarkably well-written. They're just not right for us.

who's had her fill of queries for a while


MeganRebekah said...

OMG I laughed so hard while reading this. I can picture guys out there going, "but that sounds like an awesome book". Thanks for sharing this great tidbit!

JohnO said...

Damn ... FUNNY stuff. Now, why haven't I thought about writing a mantasy? Oh, yeah. It's a dumb premise.

Anonymous said...

Drop dead funny!!!!

I have a horrible suspicion you could launch a bestseller and start a whole new genre were you to start a new line to publish some of these.

As long as they were illustrated.

Men. {shudder} No wonder women need to read romances.

Laura Hamby said...

Flashbacks! I'm having editor-type flashbacks!

Liz Wolfe said...

Thanks, Theresa. I just snorted diet coke through my nose. On the brighter side, I'm feeling MUCH better about the edit I'm doing on my WIP.

Wes said...

Oh, how funny!!!! And no doubt true.

Edittorrent said...

I've never actually understood why a man would want a harem. What, one woman isn't enough trouble for him? :)

(A friend of mine once wrote about a woman who had three husbands, well, two husbands and a lover, and I fear my reaction was, "The toilet seat must NEVER be down in her house!" I think maybe I'm not the target audience for -amy stories.)


MrsMusic said...

Mantasies are everywhere, not only in Erotica. I can't recall how often I was annoyed by a book by a male author, because at one point he let the protagonist meet a nymph-like, devoted, sexy, crazy, something women, whom he almost raped, but who seemed to enjoy even that part - and I was asking myself how any sensible person could really assume that women could enjoy this kind of stuff?!? The was one book by Haruki Murakami I read, and because the Mantasies there I probably never will touch his books again, no matter how acclaimed he is. Considering that around 70% of readers are women, it is astonishing that Mantasies seem to be an integral part of a huge part of fiction, not only genre, but also literary. Come on guys, wake up, your fantasies are not as interesting as your little buddy suggests!

(Thanks for giving me that word - mantasy - I love that! :-))

Writer and Cat said...

I wasn't sure if this was going to be a post about the too-perfect male character who ruins a good submission or Manimal or...what??!? Why are visions of a spooftastic Manimal Mantasy dancing in my perverted little head now?

Murphy said...

'He's inspired by this to divorce his wife, who neither objects nor seeks alimony or child support, and he moves into the mansion.'

Wow, talk about fiction! Absolutely hilarious - thanks for the chuckle.


Babs said...

Brilliant Theresa! And so on point. Even when a man does write a romance under a pen name I can always tell.

Gayle Carline said...

I think you're right about these authors basing their submissions on the word "erotic" in your guidelines. "Erotic" = "Mantasy" in many men's minds.

Reminds me of seeing "The Piano" years ago, which had been described as "erotic" in the newspaper. I sat in front of some young men, who kept commenting (in low tones) that they did not understand whatever was happening on the screen. When the credits rolled, one guy turned to the others and said, "I told you we should've seen Tombstone."

Erotic - To quote Ynigo Montoya, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."


em said...

This was great Theresa! Lick his lollipop? I laughed out loud at that:).

Cathy in AK said...

While in college, my husband and I shared a house--strictly as roommates at that point--with two other women. As will happen with females in close quarters, our cycles eventually became synched. He was shocked at the bombardment of hormones. In the name of self preservation, he'd set out a bowl of M&Ms. The candy would sit untouched for a while (we were always "dieting" of course :), but when it started to disappear he'd make himself scarce for a week or so.

I do believe the experience cured him of any Mantasy.

Genella deGrey said...

LOL! I never thought anyone would be bold enough to nail the manfantasies for what they are. Thank you, Theresa!

You'd think one of those "manfantasy" magazines would welcome these stories with open arms. Because they "only read them for the articles," right?


Edittorrent said...

I absolutely believe that men are capable of writing good romance. And of writing good female characters in any genre. We probably all have favorite stories by male authors in which the emotion is complex and poignant and the sex includes foreplay. ;) Right off the top of my head -- Ian McEwan, Iain Pears, and Clive Barker all write lushly emotional mainstream stories which would appeal to some female readers. Or at least would not offend them.

But, yes, I've been known to grumble at the occasional, blindingly stupid handling of a female character by a male author. And I'm willing to bet that, for the men who read romance, they feel the same way about some of our favorite heroes.

Which is just to say -- we all get it right sometimes and wrong sometimes, no matter which side of the aisle we're seated on. But the mantasy is one very particular way male authors get it wrong. And it's one I'd be happy to do without!


Lilly Cain said...

Hahahaha! I laughed for five minutes after reading this - it just struck me as so funny - and my kids kept asking "what??" but of course I could not explain it to a nine-year-old and a six-year-old. But, since they are girls I could simply say it was a silly thing about boys - and they accepted it. :)


Dorothy said...

Oh My, apparently these writers have Hugh Hefner type dreams and write with their wrong head. Apparently the real winner in these stories is the wife left behind, who after the divorce, takes her kids, starts a business becomes wildly successful and finds a man who loves her for herself.

Fawn Neun said...

We get Mantasies at the lit journal sometimes. The first one puzzled us (had we been unclear about our submissions guidelines?). The second and third were handed around the staff with lulzy disbelief. The subsequent ones get a form rejection when the reader identifies them - usually within the first 500 words.

Laurel said...

This is one of the funniest posts I've read in a long time.

I was confused as to who the authors were, though. I was thinking jilted/cheated on woman writing a cautionary tale perhaps. Harem world does not sound appealing...

In defense of the "mantasy," however, I must say the biggest fault is not realizing there really isn't much market for this since readership is dominated by women. Romances that appeal to women are rife with unrealistic, idealized heroes who are strong, protective, intelligent, and have one frustrating but forgiveable and ultimately endearing flaw. Our fantasies aren't so realistic, either, but since we buy the books, that's okay with everybody!

It's good to be the Queen.